ScreenPicks recently posed some questions to Xavier Legrand, the writer/director of the new French film Custody. The film, a dark psychological thriller, centers on a divorced father and mother. Unhappy with the conditions of child visitation after his divorce, the unstable father resorts to violent means to try to regain control of his son. The film stars Léa Drucker and Denis Ménochet as the parents and Thomas Gioria as their son, Julien.

Q: In addition to directing Custody, you wrote the screenplay. What interested you in the story and what themes is the film exploring?

Xavier Legrand: What interested me the most in this story was to start from an ordinary situation that turns into the extraordinary. The divorce of a couple who have children that turns into a ruthless family war. Cinematographically, I drew in a very deep way the notion of reality and everyday life to show it under its anxiogenic and tense-aspect. The main theme of the film is the family construction on a scheme still very widespread in our society: patriarchy. Other themes gravitate around it: the denial of violence, control, manipulation, fear, parental alienation…

Q: Are there other film directors that you admire and have they influenced your work? 

Legrand: Alfred Hitchcock, Claude Chabrol, Michael Haneke, are three directors who are very important to me. Probably because they always ask themselves the question of the spectator’s place in each of their films. The choice of their frame, their respective worlds, the themes they address speak to me a lot and make a lot of sense to me. Other directors like Darren Aronofsky, Kim Seong-hun or Alexandros Avranas are filmmakers who touch me a lot for different reasons: their aesthetic and formal radicality, as well as their audacity.

Q: Do you think that there are stylistic differences between current French and American cinema, and if so what are they?

Legrand: It’s a difficult question because it could be quite a thesis. The richness of American cinema, just like French cinema, is their diversity of genres, their multiplicity of styles and universes. I find that these are two cinemas that dare and have the possibility to make a big gap between big-budget films and more independent auteur films, thus addressing a large audience with different expectations. I often hear that French cinema is sometimes too talkative and too intellectual and that American cinema is too efficient and too keen to entertain absolutely. I can’t answer too much for American cinema, but I find that in France, a new generation of filmmakers has arrived with more assertive formal proposals, where the codes of French cinema are diverted, daring to mix genre with more and more freedom.

Q: In addition to being a writer and director, you are also an actor.  Of the three pursuits is there any that you prefer, or all equally?

Legrand: It’s impossible for me to choose a preference. Each of these pursuits complements the other. It takes a lot of energy, but I want to keep acting, writing and directing.

Q: I understand that this was the first feature-length film that you directed.  Was there anything unexpected you learned from the experience that you plan to apply to future projects, and would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

Legrand: Rather than learn something unexpected, I especially had the confirmation that believing in what we do and sharing it deeply with the whole team so that together we advance towards the same goal, is essential for the life and health of a film. Sharing our intentions deeply with each of them requires a lot of energy, calm, patience and listening. It is necessary to know how to welcome constraints rather than to want to circumvent them at all costs and to be flexible with one’s convictions in order to be able to modify and enrich them. This is really the method I want to use for my next film. Currently, I’m writing the script of my next film, and I will be back on stage as an actor next year.

Q: Is there anything in general you would like to tell audiences about Custody?

Legrand: Custody is the culmination of a project I started ten years ago. It is a film that I carried with a lot of conviction by asking myself these questions, day after day, from the writing to the color grading of the film: How to make the movie so that you, the spectator, is completely immersed in this story? How to make it so that you spend a moment of great intensity, and forget for an hour and a half who you are and where you are? How to make it so that you get out of the cinema, transformed and galvanized by a strong and unique emotion? That of fear.